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Routes to Emancipation in East Africa  

Felicitas Becker and Michelle Liebst

Slaves, ex-slaves, and their descendants have taken multiple and complex routes toward emancipation in East Africa. Their experiences varied regionally, with status contests most clearly traceable in those areas where slavery had been most concentrated, especially on the coast. As scholars have established, the legal abolition of slavery did not lead directly to emancipation in East Africa, but it contributed to the quick erosion of slavery-based labor regimes around 1900. Ex-slaves pursued economic security and livelihoods through access to land and wage labor and sought to shed the stigma of slave origins by seeking religious affiliations, education, ethnic identities, and kinship ties. Routes to emancipation were highly gendered as female slaves within owners’ households lacked both political support and legal rights to their children. Moreover, male ex-slaves’ ambitions to assert their own patriarchal status by controlling women could be a major obstacle for ex-slave women’s search for emancipation. Although political independence in the 1960s encouraged the condemnation of slavery as an aberration from a different era, slavery-derived social differences linger, and people with a genealogy of slavery may face status implications in certain situations. Though East African societies, rural ones especially, are readily characterized as timelessly egalitarian, they struggle to this day with the legacy of slavery and incomplete emancipation.

Article

Post-Slavery  

Baz Lecocq and Lotte Pelckmans

Post-slavery is an academic analytical concept that signifies the fragmented legacies and continuities of past slavery and slave trade in contemporary societies after its formal legal abolition, and beyond emancipation processes. Legacies can take the form of discourses based in collective memories and ideologies of past slavery, while continuities can take the shape of continued relations of social hierarchy and dependency between people of slave descent and the descendants of slaveholders and other people of free descent, to the disadvantage of the formerly enslaved and their descendants. The social mechanisms of exclusion that uphold post-slavery situations include the invisibility of such situations to outsiders; structural racism and other forms of stigmatization; struggles surrounding gender relations; the social importance of genealogy, marriage, and family formation across the historical free-unfree divide; uneven access to physical and social capital, such as land and positions of authority; and the politics of history and memory. Post-slavery legacies and continuities form points on a continuum, ranging from explicit forms of exploitation that could qualify as slavery outside the law (de facto, but not de jure slavery), via structural racism and other forms of structural exclusion in society (post-slavery continuities), to the residual histories and memories that can continue to mark differences between the descendants of slave and free today (post-slavery legacies).

Article

The History of Islam in Mauritania  

Erin Pettigrew

The study of the long-term history of what has been known since 1960 as the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is possible largely because of inhabitants’ early embrace of Islam in the 8th century. While research on the early pre-Islamic history of the region is limited by the availability of sources to primarily the archaeological, the arrival of Islam through trade networks crossing the Sahara from North Africa meant that Arab merchants and explorers supplied and produced knowledge about the region’s inhabitants, polities, and natural resources that was then written down in Arabic by Muslim chroniclers and historians. Early Muslims were largely Kharijite and Ibadi but the 11th-century Almoravid reformist and educational movement ensured that the region’s Muslims would predominantly follow Sunni Islam as defined by the Maliki school of law and ʿAshari theology. By the time the Almohad empire succeeded the Almoravid in the 12th century, important centers of Islamic scholarship were emerging in major trading towns in the Sahara and along the Senegal River. The expansion of Sufi thought and practice, the arrival of the Arabic-speaking Banu Hassan, and the subsequent development of political entities known as emirates occurred in ensuing centuries and played a part in the genesis of a social structure that valorized the Arabic language, the study of Islam, and claims of descent from the Prophet Muhammad. The arrival of European merchants in the 15th century and the subsequent colonization of the region by the French led to rapid changes in the economic and cultural bases of political authority and social hierarchy, with colonial policy largely valorizing Sufi leaders as political interlocutors and community representatives. Independence from France in 1960 meant the establishment of an Islamic Republic whose laws are based on a mixed legal system of Maliki Islamic and French civil law. The basis of presidential rule is not religious in nature, though presidents have increasingly used a discourse of religion to legitimize their rule in the face of internal political opposition and external threats from extremist groups such as al-Qaʿeda.

Article

Beyond Slavery: Abolition and Post-abolition in Brazil  

Hebe Mattos and Wlamyra Albuquerque

What happened after slavery in the first slave society of the Americas? How did the abolition process shape post-abolition Brazilian society? On September 28, 1871 the Lei do Ventre Livre (Free Womb Law) signaled the end for slavery in Brazil. It created, for the effects of the compensation of slave owners, a general registration of the last slaves, which shows that Brazil officially recognized around a million and a half of them in 1872. How did these last enslaved workers live and politically influence the legal process that resulted in their freedom? Certainly they did so, since between flights, negotiations, and conflicts, the number of slaves fell by half over the following years. In this process, conditional manumission letters became almost like labor contracts, the results of negotiations between slaves and slave owners which gave expectations of freedom to some and prolonged the exploitation of the labor of others. In 1887, abolition seemed inescapable. En masse flights of the last slaves made it a fact, recognized by law on May 13, 1888. How could social relations be reinvented after the collapse of the institution which had structured the country, in all its aspects, since colonization? This dismantling would have consequences that were not only economic but would also redesign the logic of power and the architecture of a society willing to maintain distinct types of citizenship. Old experiences of racism and citizenship were redefined in the process. Former slave owners fought for compensation for their lost property until Rui Barbosa, an old abolitionist and minister of finance of the first republican government, decided to burn the registration documentation in 1889, thereby preventing any compensation proposal for around seven hundred thirty thousand slaves freed by the abolition law. With the Republic (1889), a new racialized rhetoric narrated abolition as the product of the republican action of the “emancipating race,” which guaranteed freedom without conflict to the “emancipated race.” It thus made invisible not only the fundamental action of the last slaves, but also the demographically majoritarian status of the free Afro-descendants in the Brazilian population, evident in the action of numerous black abolitionists. For Afro-Brazilians, the struggle remained to define their place and rights in society. More recently, the political action of the Brazilian black movement in the commemorations of the centenary of abolition (1988) established the idea of incomplete abolition, defining May 13 as the date of the struggle against racial inequality in the country and consolidating the post-abolition period as a field of historiographic research.